A new maturity.
by Lieut-Colonel P Devavaram
With over 200,000 members the Salvation Army in India is one of the biggest in the world. Its operations are spread over 20 states and are administered by six territories. The gospel is preached in over 18 languages and there are seven training colleges. That’s large!
This large Salvation Army has reached a critical time in its history. Begun more than 100 years ago, the Army has seen its spiritual and social ministries gradually expand. However it has taken a long time for its soldiers and officers to really develop. In many respects the Indian Salvation Army has remained in a state of relative dependency.
No doubt the roots of this lie in history--the Army pioneers targeted the poorest areas, so the Army has mostly operated in socio-economically depressed communities. Those communities needed lots of parenting and the Army leadership provided it. But as the new century begins, the Army in India has entered a new maturity. It has passed from childhood into adulthood (or perhaps into adolescence, where it still needs some support from the parents).
This then is a crucial period both for the leadership of the Army and its people.
A number of challenges are being approached with new urgency. First of all, there is literacy and education. Many of the soldiers and officers of today are third and fourth generation Salvationists and some are literate and well educated. However, most of our corps are still in rural areas and many of our people remain illiterate.
It is immensely important that the Army helps these rural soldiers become literate so they can enjoy the blessings of reading the Bible and other Christian literature. Recently, some significant efforts have been made to train officers to help their people and to encourage literacy promotion in their communities. We need to build on this work in the future.
The church in India has contributed much to the development of the poor, the rural people, the women and urban poor of the nation, and the significant contribution of the Salvation Army in this has been acknowledged by many. But much still needs to be done. A large proportion of our soldiers are farm labourers, dependent on the agricultural operations in their areas. There have been some attempts to help these people, but they have not been significant enough to make an impact. New initiatives have recently begun to provide vocational training for youth and to help families raise their income and improve sanitary facilities.
Probably the Army’s most urgent challenge is people development. Our soldiers, both men and women, are a vastly under-utilised resource. In the past, officers have tended to be protective of their positions, not allowing soldiers to have leadership roles in the corps. Only during the past few years have local officers and soldiers received training, engaged in discussions and had roles assigned to them. In some territories there has been much progress in this area, while in others it is rather slow.
During the last quarter of this century, tremendous resources have been expended to educate and equip officers--and to some extent soldiers. International Headquarters has offered valuable support, and these efforts have made an impact. New attitudes are emerging and, consequently, officers are trying to mobilise their people for ministry.
The youth form another big resource that has not been adequately mobilised. Territorial and international events of recent years have encouraged them greatly. However a dynamic approach geared to the needs of present day youth has not yet been worked out.
The new emphasis on training and discussion has meant a great deal to the women of the Indian territories. National and regional conferences have helped also. Many feel that in the past the Army was saying men and women were equal, but was not giving equality in practice. Now the situation is changing and policies of gender equality are consistently followed.
Welcome changes have also been occurring in attitudes to corps. Even though the vast majority of officers are in corps, the status of the corps officer has been below the officer in an institution or on headquarters. Appointment to a corps has been considered a punishment.
Now the importance of corps work is being recognised and many good officers have been appointed to corps. In fact, newly commissioned officers have to serve in corps for a minimum of five years before they are transferred to institutions or headquarters.
With the Army moving into several important cities and towns, it has become even more urgent that corps work be strengthened.
That move has also increased the need for well trained officers. Officer training has also received a tremendous amount of attention lately. An upgraded training syllabus, equal to the bachelor of theological studies, has been introduced. There are problems with smaller sessions and a shortage of qualified teaching staff, but these are being addressed.
Evangelism, too, has been given renewed attention. Due to changes in life-styles, old methods of evangelism like the open-air meeting are no more the practice. Counselling and pastoral care have been emphasised and this has seen moderately successful results. Some families from other faiths have accepted the Christian faith and become Salvationists. But it is probably true to say that new and effective strategic efforts in evangelism are still being developed.
The most growth is being seen in the states of north-east India, bordering China and Myanmar.
In social work, too, the need for new strategies is emerging. When our present services were started, the need for them was great. However, the same services are offered today by the government and non-government agencies. So there is overlap or competition. More can be done in coming years to identify new and relevant social ministries that could attract the support of the public, particularly donors in India.
So, in summary, the Indian Salvation Army is moving into a new level of self-reliance. Old issues are being addressed in fresh ways. Each territory has held consultations with soldiers and officers and has formulated its Vision Beyond 2000 plan for the coming 10 years. And the vision is catching on.
The last 25 years have witnessed many changes in the Army in India, changes that have laid the foundation for stability and growth. We look to God for a fruitful future in these exciting years of new maturity.
The Officer, December 1999 – used with permission
Lieut-Colonel Devavaram serves with the National Secretariat as Executive Secretary for Human Resources Development.